By Eddy Smyth
Day 3: 107 miles
Hours in the saddle: 5
After a light but perfectly adequate breakfast we wandered around the town once more, marvelling at the classic buildings and sharp squares that always look tidier than their UK counterparts. The older buildings in the old centre of town sported wooden carvings of monks, kings, knights, barons and the exterior beams sagged in the middle like an overburdened washing line. One residence, alongside the castle walls was for sale: Three storeys, high walls enclosing an overgrown garden that would have made for an amazing orchard and the shutters on the windows put the finishing touches to what would have been a stunning residence but it seems the French prefer new buildings with less maintenance costs. We discussed the merits of buying a fancy house with lottery winnings in the UK or the idyllic looking scene before us here. It was no contest.
An indoor market hall was open for business. Fish, fruit, cheeses and sundry spices produced a picturesque and very inviting scene. I had to be dragged away.
It was past 09:00 yet everywhere still seemed deserted. The roads were not busy and after we checked out of the hotel and made our way from the old town centre the main square was already set up for market day. Joy would have been very unhappy were she with me and we were leaving without giving the stalls a once over.
Our plan today was to head towards the coast, stopping almost at random at any viewing point that caught the eye. Ploubalay and on towards St-Cast-Le-Guildo, crossing the estuary at Chat where ruins are marked on the map was passed without pause. The first stop was at a beach with a stunning view out to sea just north of Chat. Not a soul about. The sun warmed us slightly and it was pure heaven just to take in the ambience of our surroundings. We’d only been riding for 45 minutes. It might take us a very long time to reach the final destination of the day but since we had not booked a single hotel beforehand it mattered not. We had maps with markings and suggestions of places to visit, as well as a number of highlighted roads that should prove to be excellent biking runs but that is all we had planned. We could do all of it or none. We were free to choose and free to our fancy.
Matignon, Fort-La-Latte and Cap Frehel
St-Cast-Le-Guildo is on a headland with a bit of history; a cannon and a stone memorial that looks like a couple of skittles with a stone lid have inscriptions. The views out to sea and across the cliff tops once more are sublime and the car parks below almost empty.
We looped around the coast along here and back around to Matignon, where we turned right and onwards towards Fort-La-Latte and then Cap Frehel where a lighthouse stands almost on the very tip of this headland. Fort-La-latte was a little busier and in the heat of the late morning sun we parked the bikes and, in my lined textile outfit and Gareth in his leathers, we trudged heavily towards this iconic castle on foot. They want money to let you in. It was enough for us to have seen the exterior, especially from a small cove we found at the bottom of the steep path that led through thickets filled with warbling birds and clicking insects.
The castle is extremely photogenic and worth the sweat we’d built up. Apparently it has been used for many film scenes, Monty Python geeks can tell me which film features this place. A highlight of the day.
As we moved onwards we began a bit of a battle with two items of French roads that did not please. The first required careful negotiation, as the roundabouts all have tight turning circles and adverse cambers. This is not healthy on a big bike. My back wheel seemed to want to slide outwards like a centrifuge almost every time. Low speed is the secret. I crawled around very gingerly at the more conical looking roundabouts.
The second problem was diversions. Without warning you would find the road ahead blocked and maybe an arrow pointing traffic up a side road, but not always. However, that is often the only directional advice you are given. After the cursory pointer you are on your own. We made several hashes of finding our way through these infernal disruptions to our map reading. Patience and the willingness to turn back and try again are needed to get you through these challenges.
We headed on to Pléneuf-Val-André and found a very pretty corner of the village, right next to the promenade for lunch. Sunglasses were required to sit outside and Gareth complimented the salad as one of the best he’d ever eaten. I also complimented the Glacé dessert of ice cream; hot chocolate and Chantilly in a glass bucket as one of the biggest I’d tackled in many a month. It was a fair price to pay too. No complaints. We idled away more than an hour here and chatted to a British couple who were passing through to look after someone’s house for a year. Now that’s a job I could do.
We chose to head onwards to Paimpol which required a bit of clever map reading if we were to avoid snaking through the centre of Saint Brieuc. OK, so I’m not a clever map reader. The tiny road that would have bypassed this horribly busy city was missed even though I did find Yffiniac (how Welsh is that?) I ended up dragging us through the multi junction’d streets amid beeping cars and dirty pavements. Leaving here was also a problem as road signs are not strategically placed as you approach a junction but are often only noticed when you have passed the turning.
However, leave this city we did and we again found another diversion, due to road works, that took a bit of careful map reading to find the best way across to meet up with our chosen road. The sign merely told us to turn back. A country lane was marked on the map but when we got to it the road was barred as a one way only, and not one way from our direction. We did find a route through about half a mile farther along. The road to Paimpol is stunning. The resort of Binic being just one port and beach area that warrants closer inspection. It truly is idyllic all the way up this coast road. In fact the Brittany coast line has not overstated itself. It is wonderful.
We rode into Paimpol and parked up right at the port. Scores of masts filled the view at eye level as small to medium sized crafts filled both docks. Cafes aplenty along the roadside and at least two hotels within reach before we even contemplated looking farther along the edges of this very quaint port town.
I entered one hotel and asked the friendly lad behind the desk for a room for the night and he promptly tapped in our details on the computer. The hotel faced the dock and a car park linked the two. I asked if we would be OK to leave our motorcycles in the car park overnight and he gestured for us to wheel the bikes up onto the pavement and park them under the awning right in front of the glass window of the reception. He pointed to a CCTV mounted above the window. The space was just perfect for just two bikes.
What service! What a guy. He also owned a bike and when Gareth and I returned later after wandering through the town he’d brought it to the front and left it there on the pavement next to our bikes for us to inspect. We took our time looking at the machine and gave him several thumbs up through the window in appreciation, more of his kindness than the crud covered bike he’d obviously ridden to almost extinction.
Paimpol is a nice enough place. A couple of narrow streets offer up a few shops with interesting goods on display. One ancient building with beams and tiny windows was a real Aladdin’s cave of hardware products inside and out. Not all of the shops were open. I spotted a cheese shop and had to indulge. We sat drinking coffee at a quayside café and watched the late afternoon traffic chasing each other’s tail as folk were heading home.
Some drunk guy ambled by, heard our voices and stated that he hated the English. I agreed with him, as an adopted Scot and my companion a true Welshman. He muttered on as if we were now the best of friends, like the village idiot he is obviously employed as and strolled off to pester someone else for a cigarette and a punch in the face. He was the only person (loose term) I’ve ever encountered in all my visits to have been less than tolerant of our patronage. He’ll probably get voted France’s Prime Minister at the next election.
We’d spotted a great little restaurant in a square just behind the quayside. I chose veal covered in bacon and cheese and smothered in a white wine and mushroom sauce. It was exquisite. I supped down a measure of local cider which is served in a stone jar and one drinks from a matching cup in these parts: very quaint. Locals around us were devouring crepes for every course. Three guys at the next table had a paunch each to suggest this little get together was a regular feature of their week as the various topped pancakes were piled up and then demolished almost ritual like. The tourists and romantic couples ate oysters and on the whole this place maintained the high standard of cuisine and service we had already come to expect on our travels. The rain that had threatened was in full spate now and began to dampen not only the roads this evening but our spirits also. It looked likely this change of weather was to be in for a few days.
Day 3 Gallery
To be continued…